HC Deb 25 May 1827 vol 17 cc1028-35

On the order of the day for going into a committee of Supply,

Sir T. Lethbridge

rose to avail himself of this opportunity to state his opinions upon the general situation of the country. In doing so he felt he was only discharging his duty. With this impression, he trusted he should be excused for stating the reasons why he thought that House ought not to go any further with the supplies to his majesty. He was well aware, that any reasons which he could offer would not so far weigh with the House, under existing circumstances, as to induce them to come to the same opinion which he held: yet he had a right to state the reasons why he would not, if he had the power to prevent it, allow any further operations of his majesty's administration. He was fully convinced that the operations of that administration would end in great disappointment, if not in serious injury, to the empire. The right hon. gentleman had addressed him, the other night, in language highly poetical, but which, nevertheless, partook somewhat of the nature of prose; because that right hon. gentleman had taken the liberty of altering the passage which he meant to apply to him, in a manner which was neither very courteous, nor fitting in a prime minister. Although that right hon. gentleman might threaten to "sear his eyes, and blast his heart," such language should not prevent him from persevering in the line of duty. If he thought proper, he could "show his (Mr. Canning's) eyes, and grieve his heart" with what the real opinion of the country was, with regard to his administration. When he looked at the manner in which that coalition had been formed, he knew it was directly at variance with the principles entertained by the highest authority in the state, and he was justified in saying, that he had no confidence in it; and having no confidence, he would not, if he could prevent it, suffer the operations of government to go on for another day. In looking at the present administration, he would first look to the mode and manner in which it had been formed; and he must take the liberty of saying, that, viewing the matter with the most candid eye, there had been a coalition of opposite principles and characters, such as he would not trust himself with words to describe. They had seen coalitions before, but never such a coalition as this. He was firmly of opinion that it could not stand; and if that were the case, then there was some consolation still left to the country. It had been said, that the right hon. gentleman opposite had a "master mind," and he believed it; but if that right hon. gentleman could keep together materials so discordant as those which were now serving under him, he would show a mind much more masterly than he gave him credit for. If the manner in which those materials had been brought together were fairly stated, it would be found that there had been much preparation and previous concocting. Something had already been told about it; but he wished to have brought it to a nearer point. He had felt it his duty to put some questions to the right hon. gentleman, which he ought to have answered, in order that the country might have their eyes directed to what was going on. The first question elicited an answer, which admitted that the right hon. gentleman had received overtures from his political opponents, previous to the cessation of the last administration. He had also put another question, which, as he did not then press it, the right hon. gentleman had not thought proper to answer. On Monday last he had also put some other questions, for the purpose of clearing up the doubts which still remained. He had asked him, after that he had admitted these overtures, if he communicated them to his colleagues. And why did he put this question? Because he wished to elucidate the point he had in view, and because one of the right hon. gentleman's colleagues had denied that he knew any thing about these overtures. The right hon. gentleman, however, refused to answer these questions. Another reason which he had for viewing the present administration with suspicion was, that those who composed it had constantly held each other up to the country as advocating measures and principles which were neither wholesome nor proper. When this fact was considered, ought any one to be surprised that suspicion filled the minds of many persons in the country? No; and he believed that there was but one feeling in the country, and that the present administration would continue to be an object of considerable distrust. There was another reason which must weigh with every body. If it was true that the illustrious individual who was at the head of the country [cries of "order"]—he knew he was treading on delicate ground, and should, therefore, be on his guard. The House however, understood well what he was about to allude to; and the country was well acquainted with the total difference which existed, on one great question, between the—

Sir W. W. Wynn

said, he must call the hon. baronet to order. He thought that there was nothing more disorderly than to allude to a subject which the hon. baronet was now touching upon. The hon. baronet had said that he would confine himself within the prescribed limits, and he (sir W. Wynn) thought he ought to do so.

Sir T. Lethbridge

knew how very difficult it was to describe the opinion which he had to describe; especially after the marked disapprobation which had been expressed to the course which he had taken; but he was not to be deterred from the point which he was coming to. It he could not arrive at it by the limits which were set to the debates in that House, he would take the liberty of supposing a case by which he hoped to make himself understood. Suppose, then, there was a country not far from Great Britain, the monarch of which—

Mr. Wynn

rose to inform the hon. baronet, that that was not a point of etiquette, but the very essence of the constitution, on which the separation of the different powers of the state, and the freedom of debate in that House depended. He called upon the Speaker to inform the hon. baronet, that he was not at liberty to do that indirectly which he could not do directly, and that there were no means by which he could, consistently with the orders of that House, arrive at that point which he was evidently labouring to reach.

The Speaker

said, he took it to be perfectly clear that that which could not be said directly, could not, in order, be stated by any circuitous means. If he had distinctly arrived at the meaning of the hon. baronet as soon as the hon. gentleman who had called him to order, he should have interfered before. The hon. baronet must understand, that it was not allowable, by any hypothesis, to introduce any mention of the king, which would interfere with the freedom of debate, or control the opinions of that House. The use of the king's name for any such purpose in that House was not constitutional.

Sir T. Lethbridge

continued. He could only say again, that when he looked at the situation in which the government was placed, and at the discordant materials of which it was composed, he was convinced that it could not stand long. The right hon. gentleman had described what passed between himself and his sovereign; and it would not be forgotten under what circumstances his majesty invested him with full power to form an administration. But what sort of an administration? Why, an administration on the grounds of he late administration. But that right hon. gentleman had formed an administration on principles directly opposite to his own, and one which could not possibly go on without a considerable compromise of principle. The House saw a considerable portion of those who had been accustomed to sit on the Opposition side now sitting on the other; and the leader of them had nevertheless declared that their principles were unchanged. Upon what were they agreed? Upon one question only, and that, too, a question which they dared not touch. But, could that question be carried now? No. He must not allude to it; but they knew very well the reason why it could not be carried. Who, then, were deceived? Why both the Protestants and the Catholics. If there was any sincerity in what all of them had said, Ireland must be in a most perilous state as long as this question was hung up and laid aside in the most shabby manner. He would say that this was not constitutional—it was not parliamentary—it was not like a prime minister; and he would tell those hon. gentlemen, that whatever their talents might be, if they were destitute of political integrity, their talents would weigh but as a feather in the estimation of the country. He was convinced that the time would come when the march of intellect [laughter]—they had heard a great deal about the march of intellect, and it now turned out to be only a matter of merriment [laughter]—the time, however, would come when considerable disgust would be raised in the public mind if they saw any compromise of principle. Was it, then, nothing for the people to look upon any body of men with contempt? To this the country must soon come, if they saw any compromise of public principle. He would contend, that this was a sufficient reason for every man to stand up and oppose the continuation of those supplies which were now nearly completed; and he should, therefore, make no apolgy for doing what his duty to those who sent him there, and to the public at large, demanded. He would not have found fault with the right hon. gentleman, if it had not been for the coalition that had taken place; but now he must tell him, that he had fallen from the pinnacle of his greatness, and that he must look sharp if he meant to regain it. In the cabinet which he had formed, there were not less than twelve for the Catholic question, and only three against it. Twelve to three were fearful odds; and yet it was not to be carried. The right hon. gentleman had allowed persons to slip a wedge into the cabinet, with the sharp end foremost. They had not begun to drive it yet; but when they did, the right hon. gentleman would find it difficult to prevent their driving it up to the hilt [laughter.] Honourable gentlemen might laugh; but he had seen quite enough of politics to tell the right hon. gentleman, that his situation was a very ticklish one; for who would expect that persons so different in opinion could go on for any length of time? It was impossible. The learned gentleman opposite (Mr. Brougham) had taunted him, and asked him, "Why he did not bring forward a motion?" That learned gentleman and the right hon. gentleman were now friends; and two very good tacticians they were. It was not from want of inclination that he hesitated to bring forward a motion. If he had talent enough, he would bring one forward directly. As it was, he did not think that he should give notice of a motion on that night, nor on Monday night. Indeed, he had not yet made up his mind when he should bring forward a motion, or whether he should bring forward a motion at all. He thought he had given every proof that he was not actuated by rancour or personal hostility; but he never would flinch from opposing a body of persons who were guilty of a compromise of principle. Although he had been driven by the technical objections of the House, from a point which was the strongest, it was discussed all over the country; and the right hon. gentleman could not get over it.

Mr. Curwen

did not think the hon. baronet had conducted his opposition with discretion. If he were anxious to root the present administration in the affections of the country, he could not adopt a more effective course. For his part, he entertained an opinion favourable to reform; but he saw no prospect, at present, of carrying that measure. Reform was, however, not now the question, but whether he should withhold his support from the right hon. gentleman, in many of whose measures he agreed, and thereby promote the return to power of those to whose measures he was ten times more opposed, and who had not a tithe of his abilities. If he were asked, could he conscientiously support the administration of the right hon. gentleman, he would reply, he would give it his support, as being the most competent to extricate the country from its difficulties. Without pledging himself to approve all the right hon. gentleman's measures, he would say, "Give him fair play!"

Lord Castlereagh

begged leave to disclaim all that savoured of personal hostility. The basis of his opposition was, that, surrounded by opponents to the Catholic claims, and, deserted by its supporters, he considered himself almost in an isolated situation. He could not help thinking that the Catholic question had been sunk for ever. It was true that, in the present cabinet, there were twelve in favour of that question, and only three against it; but then there was that—though he must not allude to it—which would make those twelve as dust in the balance. When he looked at that question, he could not conceive how it could be carried through, by controlling or by perverting the established opinions in the highest quarter of the state. He wished to see it carried; but he did not see any hope. They had been told that a day-spring from on high had visited Ireland; but he was more inclined to look upon it as the glare of an unwholesome marsh meteor, which betrayed the traveller to destruction, and which would leave them in a state of greater Cimmerian darkness than before. He saw, on the other side of the House, great authorities for a contrary opinion; and he hoped that he was wrong. For his own part, he was unable to see how the question had been, in the slightest degree, advanced. On the contrary, he thought he might congratulate the Protestants on the decisive vantage-ground which they had gained; and he must, therefore, offer a decided opposition to a government under which the Catholic question was less likely to be carried than before.

Mr. Lindsay

said, he could not give his confidence to the ministry until he had seen more of their measures. They were told, as an excuse for gentlemen taking seats on the other side of the House, that they had long agreed on almost every question with his majesty's ministers. But, if this were so, why had they remained on the Opposition side of the House so long? and why had so many divisions taken place on various questions in the course of the last few years? Were not the gentlemen who had gone over separated in opinion from the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the question of the Test act, Parliamentary Reform, and the Abolition of Sinecure Places? With respect to the finance of the country, were they not decidedly opposed to ministers? He, certainly, on some points, agreed with those who were now in office; but his support must remain in abeyance until he found whether they did or did not mean to adhere to those principles which they had formerly possessed.

Mr. Birch

thought it his duty to support a ministry whose principles were manifestly more liberal than those by which several of the late ministers were actuated. As an advocate for liberal principles, he would give his cordial support to the present administration.

Mr. Winn

said, he meant to give the ministry his support, until their actions caused him to withhold it. They ought, in his opinion, to be tried by their actions before they were condemned. Nothing could be more ridiculous than to declare a want of confidence in those who had, as yet, done nothing to forfeit that confidence. At the same time he must say, that he looked with great surprise at the conduct pursued by some of the gentlemen belonging to the Whig party. They had entered into a coalition with ministers; and, as it appeared to him, they had thrown the Catholic question, as well as parliamentary reform, overboard. Brilliant hopes had been held out to the Catholics; but those hopes must he disappointed, when their most strenuous advocates were found united with individuals, several of whom were decidedly opposed to it.

Lord Sandon

said, that those who had joined the ministry had not abandoned the Catholic claims. Any individual might, even now, bring it forward; but he considered it a question which, under the present circumstances, no friend to the Catholics would force forward. He must say, that if any friend to that great question opposed the present ministry, he should find it difficult to discover the meaning or motive of his conduct. When an opposition was made to government, the intention must be to turn that government out; and what would be the effect, if the noble lord (Castlereagh) succeeded in an object of that kind? Would he thereby place the Catholic question on better grounds than those on which it at present stood? There were obstacles, he knew, in the way of Catholic emancipation. Were those obstacles the work of the present administration? Certainly not; but they were likely to be removed by that administration.

Mr. J. Grattan

was perfectly convinced, that no line of conduct could better serve the Catholic cause than that of strongly supporting his majesty's present ministers. He would call the attention of the House to the fact, that those who were most decidedly opposed to the Catholic claims were also the most decidedly opposed to the new administration.

Lord J. Russell

thought it would be unfair and unjust, on entering into a committee of supply, to call on a new government to state what retrenchments they meant to make. He should, however, reserve to himself the right, next year, to oppose any item of expenditure which, after the labours of the finance committee had been completed, he might deem improper.

The House then resolved itself into a Committee of Supply, in which the several Irish Miscellaneous Services were, after a desultory conversation, agreed to.